One of my family’s favorite holiday traditions is spending a day at Gaylord National to see the annual ICE! Exhibit and experience the resort’s other holiday activities. After a two-year pandemic hiatus, my entire family was thrilled that the giant ice sculptures are back. Even better, this year’s exhibit features the classic movie A Christmas Story.
The ICE! exhibit is the main attraction but don’t overlook the resort’s huge Christmas Village and other activities Gaylord National has to offer.
ICE! is a truly awe-inspiring experience. The exhibit has literally tons of hand-carved, larger-than-life, full-color ice sculptures spread across multiple rooms. This year’s theme for ICE! is A Christmas Story. As you enter ICE! it feels like you are entering the movie itself. Once inside, children (and adults!) can become a part of many of the iconic film’s classic scenes, from gazing at the toys in the Department Store’s window to taking part in opening the “frag-ee-lay” leg lamp to sitting in the bathroom with a mouth full of soap and experiencing Christmas morning with Ralphie’s family. My family held a living room showing of the movie the night before we saw ICE!, but there are signs throughout telling the story, which most kids will be able to relate to even if they haven’t seen the movie. Visitors completely unfamiliar with the story will enjoy looking at the intricately carved and dyed ice sculptures. At the end of the exhibit, there is a lovely, peaceful nativity scene. Grab a hot chocolate once you exit!
Tickets for ICE! start at $27.99. They are timed entry, but you can stay as long as you like once inside.
The Ice Slides
For many kids, the highlight of visiting ICE! is the ice slides in the middle of the exhibit. There is even a smaller slide just for the 4-and-under crowd. My kids loved going on the slides repeatedly. Plenty of adults got in on the action, too. The slides are included with admission to ICE!
Storytime with Mrs. Claus
A “sweet” experience is cookies and milk during story time with Mrs. Claus. Mrs. Claus plays the part perfectly. Along with her bubbly sidekick Snowflake the Elf, she asks kids about their favorite holiday traditions and reads them “The Night Before Christmas” while they enjoy warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies and milk.
Tickets cost $13.99 per person.
Cookie and Gingerbread House Decorating:
Decorating cookies and building gingerbread houses is a time-honored tradition for many families. Gaylord’s Gingerbread Decorating Corner has several options for cookie and gingerbread house decorating—and best of all, they clean up the mess. My kids had the best time decorating their Gingerbread house.
Packages start at $24.99.
There is a fun ice-skating rink in Winter Square. All skating includes rentals and all-day skating so it’s possible to get in a couple of sessions. As a family with very new skaters, one thing I appreciated was the presence of ice guards who helped struggling skaters and gave mini-lessons to kids who needed help getting started. I had two brand new skaters and both had a great time after getting a little help from staff. There are also big bears new skaters can use to keep their balance. The bears also have seats, so if kids are having a hard time finding their footing, their grown-up can push them around the ice.
Tickets are $20.99.
Snow Flow Mountain
Snow Flow Mountain is a series of big indoor slides made of ice. Riders sit on a tube and go fast. Since there are four slides, the line moves pretty quickly and kids can get in plenty of rides with the all-day pass. These slides are bigger and faster than the ice slides in the ICE! exhibit and my kids thought it was a worthwhile add-on. I had fun, too!
Tickets are $24.99.
The Scavenger Hunt
Explore the hotel and complete The Grinch’s Wonderful Awful Idea Scavenger Hunt. Solve the clues and puzzles to stop the Grinch from stealing the presents and, if successful in your mission, you receive a prize. One scavenger hunt booklet can be shared by multiple kids, and it’s a fun family activity.
Each booklet is $9.99, including a small prize.
There are even more activities! Be sure to also check out Snow Ball Blast and ice bumper cars. At Snow Ball Blast, elves give visitors a bin full of ice to form into snowballs that families throw at different targets. My kids loved this friendly competition. At Ice Bumper Cars, each rider gets their own motorized tube, and riders bump into each other, similar to traditional bumper cars. There are also photo ops with Santa and other activities throughout the resort, including a Cirque-style show and light display in the atrium.
Where to Eat
Gaylord National has a range of on-site restaurants and there are even more options if you exit the hotel to explore National Harbor. We really liked taking a break at the on-site restaurant, Harbor Social. The restaurant has great sliders and fun desserts, but the real draw for my family was the duckpin bowling lanes and pool tables in the restaurant.
Gaylord National is in the heart of the National Harbor, a bustling shopping and eating area with plenty of activities. Don’t miss the Capital Wheel, an enormous Ferris Wheel with enclosed, climate-controlled cars. Also explore the beach area by the Potomac, the shops and the restaurants.
Tickets for the Capital Wheel are $15.00 per adult, and less for children. Packages are available.
Be sure to check out the Gaylord National’s site to see what else is on, including visits with Santa, a train ride, and several shows. A visit just to see ICE! is definitely worth a visit on its own, but be sure to at least take a look at other available activities and experiences to make sure you don’t miss out on something you know your child will love!
Good to Know:
Pricing varies greatly based upon when you visit and if any specials are running. There are several different packages available that have significant savings. We suggest deciding which activities you would most like to do (or if you want to do all of them!) and find the package that is the best fit. If you would like to do more than one or two activities, the Play and Save bundles are the best deal. Also, look for overnight packages that include perks like early entry to the ICE! exhibit.
If you have a little one, note that strollers are not permitted in the ICE! exhibit, but there is stroller parking just outside the entrance. There were plenty of babies in carriers when I visited. We strongly recommend bringing a stroller if your child usually uses one since there is a lot of walking in the hotel.
ICE! is cold at a very chilly 9 degrees. Big, blue parkas are mandatory to stay warm. You need to bring your own gloves and hats. Because everyone looks alike in blue parkas, we suggest using bright hats or hats with big pom-poms so that you can easily find your kids. Parkas are available as small as 2T, and if a parent wears a slightly big parka it can be snapped over a baby. As cold as ICE! is, with the parka, gloves and a hat, no one in my family has every gotten uncomfortably cold.
Park on-site at Gaylord National or in one of the nearby garages. Note that some packages include parking, and discounted pre-paid parking is available in the hotel at a day rate of $23.00. Check out the full range of Christmas on the Potomac events at Gaylord National Resort to ensure you get the most out of your visit.
Have fun – and stay warm!
Jamie Davis Smith is a regular contributor to Washington FAMILY magazine. A mother of four, she loves exploring the D.C. area with her family. Reach her at [email protected].